(Photos courtesy NHRA)

2016 NHRA season in review: Top Fuel driver J.R. Todd

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Over the next three-plus weeks, MotorSportsTalk will feature season-ending reviews of the top drivers of the 2016 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season.

Each day, we’ll have one in-depth review of a driver that finished in the top-five in each of the four professional classes (Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle), as well as a compendium of select other drivers that did not finish in the top-five.

The list of drivers we’ve already posted is below. Today, we feature Top Fuel driver J.R. Todd:

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Driver: J.R. Todd

Age: 35

Hometown: Lawrenceburg, Indiana

Team: Kalitta Motorsports

Sponsor/car: SealMaster/Kalitta Air

Crew chief: Connie Kalitta

2016 season finish: Fourth in Top Fuel.

2016 season statistics: 24 races, 1 win, 5 runner-up, 7 semifinals, 4 quarterfinals. No. 1 qualifier one time. Round-by-round record: 37 wins, 23 losses.

Career statistics: 152 races, 9 wins, 10 runner-up, 21 semifinals, 41 quarterfinals. No. 1 qualifier 9 times. Round-by-round record: 149 wins, 139 losses. Four DNQ.

What went right in 2016: Todd enjoyed the second-best season of his Top Fuel career, finishing fourth. He joined Kalitta Motorsports three races into the 2014 season and finished second in the standings. But 2016 stands out because Todd had a single-season high five runner-up and seven semifinal finishes. Was part of major drag racing history, losing to teammate Doug Kalitta in the closest Top Fuel final round finish — .000 seconds — at Southern Nationals in Commerce, Ga.

What went wrong in 2016: Todd struggled in the first half of the season, racking up five first-round losses in the first 11 races. But he finally turned things around by reaching the finals three times in the next four races, including his lone win of the season (Sonoma). … Unfortunately, he fell behind quickly in the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoff, suffering first-round losses in two of the first three races Charlotte 2 and Reading). But he bounced back to reach the finals in the last two races of the season to jump from eighth after Reading to finish a strong fourth.

What to look for in 2017: While he’ll remain with Kalitta Motorsports, Todd will shift from Top Fuel to Funny Car, replacing 2015 Funny Car champ Del Worsham, who has returned to drive for his family’s team. Troy Coughlin, who was originally slated to compete part-time in Top Fuel in 2017, has been elevated to replace Todd in the Kalitta Motorsports’ dragster.

Season reviews already posted:

— Antron Brown (12/12)

— Ron Capps (12/13)

— Jason Line (12/14)

Jerry Savoie (12/15)

Doug Kalitta (12/16)

Tommy Johnson Jr. (12/17)

Greg Anderson (12/18)

Eddie Krawiec (12/19)

Steve Torrence (12/20)

— Matt Hagan (12/21)

— Shane Gray (12/22)

— Andrew Hines (12/23)

— J.R. Todd (12/24)

— John Force (12/25)

— Bo Butner (12/26)

— Angelle Sampey (12/27)

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Toyota No. 8 car wins the 24 Hours of Le Mans for third consecutive year

24 Hours of Le Mans
JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/AFP via Getty Images
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LE MANS, France — Toyota Gazoo’s No. 8 car comfortably won the 24 Hours of Le Mans by five laps Sunday to secure a third straight victory in the prestigious endurance race.

It was also a third consecutive win for Swiss driver Sebastien Buemi and Japan’s Kazuki Nakajima driving. Brendon Hartley was the other driver, having replaced two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso.

Buemi and Hartley sat on the side of the car as Nakajima drove toward the podium. Hartley won for a second time after tasting success with the Porsche LMP Team in 2017 before an unhappy season in Formula One.

The Swiss team’s Rebellion No. 1 featured American driver Gustavo Menezes and Brazilian Bruno Senna – the nephew of late F1 great Ayrton Senna.

It finished one lap ahead of Toyota Gazoo’s No. 7, with Rebellion’s No. 3 finishing in fourth place.

For much of the race it looked like Toyota’s No. 7 would win after leading comfortably from pole position. But late into the night the car encountered an engine problem and the 30-minute stop in the stands proved costly.

The race was first held in 1923. A total of 252,500 spectators attended in 2019, but there were none this year when the race started three months late because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“We miss the fans,” New Zealander Hartley said. “I look forward to seeing all the fans again.”

In other divisions:

United Autosports won the LMP2 division with the entry of Filipe Albuquerque, Paul Di Resta and Phil Hanson.

–In LMGTE Pro, the victory was claimed by Aston Martin Vantage AMR of Maxime Martin, Alex Lynn and Harry Tincknell (who drives for Mazda in the DPi division of IMSA).

–TF Sport won the LMGTE Am class.

The Toyota No. 7 took pole after former F1 driver Kamui Kobayashi narrowly edged out the Rebellion No. 1 team in qualifying.

In damp and humid conditions Mike Conway got away cleanly from the start, while Senna held off Buemi.

After nearly seven hours, Toyota’s No. 8 fell back after a 10-minute stop in the stands to fix a brake-cooling problem on Kazuki Nakajima’s car. Rebellion’s No. 1, driven by Frenchman Norman Nato, took advantage to move into second place behind Toyota’s No. 7.

Then came the decisive moment at 2:40 a.m. as the No. 7 – also featuring Argentine Jose Maria Lopez – encountered a turbo problem. When the car came back out it was back in fourth.

“We had a few problems early in the race,” Nakajima said. “Later they had a bigger issue than us.”

Rebellion’s No. 1 encountered a problem on the hood at around 9 a.m. and the change took six minutes, allowing the Rebellion No. 3 (Nathanael Berthon-Louis Deletraz-Romain Dumas) to close the gap.

It was becoming a tight battle between the two Rebellion cars behind Toyota’s No. 8.

At 12 p.m. Rebellion No. 3 with Dumas behind the wheel was only one second ahead of No. 1 driven by Menezes. Then both cars came in for a driver change with Deletraz swapping for Dumas on a lengthy stop, and Nato for Menezes as Rebellion No. 1 suddenly moved ahead of its team rival.

Dumas, a winner in 2016 with Porsche, appeared unhappy at the strategy decision to bring his car in first and the length of the stop. There were tense explanations in the team garage.

Colombian Tatiana Calderon, an F1 test driver with Alfa Romeo, was in the Richard Mille Racing Team in the LMP2 category. She was joined by German Sophia Florsch – an F3 driver – and Dutchwoman Beitske Visser. They placed ninth out of 24 in their category.